Raise your hand if you enjoyed Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones. Me too!! Well, good news for all of us, Jones has a new novel, Hand Me Down World. This book is out now in the U.K. and due out in the States in September.
Hand Me Down World is the story of Ines search for her kidnapped baby son. Ines works as a maid in a resort in Tunisia. In addition to their domestic duties the staff at this hotel is expected to provide sex for the guests. When Ines becomes pregnant after an affair with a German tourist she is tricked into signing away all rights to their son by her lover and his wife. Ines does not accept this cruelty as fate. She decides that she will venture into the world of which she knows nothing, get herself to Berlin and reclaim her child.
Taking a page from mystery writers like Wilkie Collins and Agatha Christie the first half of the novel is told by various characters by way of their statements to the police. At this point the reader has no idea why the police are investigating Ines and the varying accounts give disparate points of view of the events. This uncertainty regarding Ines (not her real name) is echoed through the novel. Jones allows the hotel manager, human traffickers, fellow immigrants, a snail collector, a British film researcher, an Italian truck driver and a blind German to all have their say in defining Ines prior to allowing her to speak for herself but does that make Ines a more reliable narrator? Along the way these witnesses inadvertently reveal how they have been contained by their own worlds.
Ines is a complicated character. She is a victim and a victimizer. Having her introduced to us by third party testimony is the genius of this novel. By doing this Jones keeps both Ines the Heroine and Ines one of the millions of iinvisible, poverty stricken citizens of the world intact. He also feeds our need to solve the mystery of contradictions that is Ines.
It's easy to feel sorry for a woman trapped in a low paying job in a country where she has little or no prospects. It is more difficult to empathize with a woman who uses sex to manipulate men. Is it that her sad life experience has schooled her to believe that her sexuality is her only hope of finding her son? Or is Ines a self serving individual who uses sex to control? Someone who is 'no better than she ought to be' as my Aunt Isabelle would have said. Most of the witnesses, but not all, see Ines as a demure woman and a good worker but we know that Ines carries a knife and has stolen money. There are even hints that she may be involved in a murder.
There are some moments in Hand Me Down World that press credulity and occasionally the statements made by the witnesses come off almost as ~~~shudder~~~ short stories. Heaven Forbid! However the all too realistic plight of Ines and the very large talents of Lloyd Jones carry the day. This is a novel that will stay in your thoughts. The misuse of Ines by people with money smacks of modern colonialism, Ines situation, her background, the mysteries of identity and the clever way Jones has laid out the story make Hand Me Down World a thought provoking page turner.